May 24, 2006, 11:54PM
SANTIAGO, Chile — The leader of a now-dismantled colony founded by German immigrants in southern Chile was convicted of sexually abusing 25 children and sentenced to 20 years in jail.
Judge Hernan Gonzalez also sentenced Paul Schaefer, 84, on Wednesday to pay $1.43 million to 11 of the children whose families filed a civil suit against the former leader of Colonia Dignidad, or "Dignity Colony."
The colony, about 215 miles south of Santiago, was founded by Schaefer and other German immigrants in the early 1960s and developed into a prosperous farming operation. It also had a hospital and school offering free services to poor families in the area.
Its leaders, however, were accused of serious human rights abuses against the more than 300 residents in the enclave, and later of allowing secret police during the 1973-90 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet to use the colony as a detention, torture and execution center.
Schaefer and other colony leaders rejected the accusations, calling them part of a communist-inspired smear campaign. His lawyers were not immediately available for comment Wednesday.
A series of investigations after civilian rule was restored found evidence that several people were arrested and taken there, including American mathematician Boris Weisfeiler, missing since 1985. At least 18 people remain under indictment over human rights abuses at the enclave, including top commanders of Pinochet's secret police, Schaefer and other former colony leaders.
Authorities have gradually dismantled the colony since Pinochet stepped down, but a number of residents continue to live on the sprawling farm. Others have returned to Germany.
In a letter published in December, former colony members who still live there admitted that "serious abuses" occurred in the secretive enclave during Pinochet's rule and asked for forgiveness from Chileans. They said Schaefer was responsible, because "he allowed our villa to be used for the detention and repression of people persecuted" by the Pinochet regime.